Google Releases Project Ara MDK

Ara Modules

 

It’s been a little while since we’ve heard about modular smartphones, but Google has just released the Module Developers Kit (MDK) for Project Ara. The development kit gives an overview of the inner workings of the project, and provides templates for building your own modules.

Once you’ve agreed to the license agreement and downloaded the MDK, you’ll find a large specification document. It explains how a phone will comprise of many modules loaded into an endoskeleton, giving mechanical support and electrical connections. An interface block provides each module with power and data over LVDS. Modules are held in place by an electro-permanent magnet which can be toggled by software.

When you’re finished with the specification document, you can dive into the reference designs. These include templates and actual modules for WiFi, thermal imaging, a battery pack, and more. Mechanical CAD is provided as STEP files and drawings, and electrical design files are provided as Altium projects and PDF schematics.

We discussed both Project Ara and Phonebloks on Hackaday in the past, but now we’re starting to see real details. Google’s Project Ara Developer Conference takes place on April 15th and 16th, and you can register to take part remotely for free. Is this the start of an open, modular phone? Let us know what you think.

[Thanks to Adam for the tip]

Use Your Smartphone as a Microscope for Less Than $10

FY4TBHSHMMFBB4V.LARGE[Yoshinok] recently posted an Instructable on doing a $10 smartphone-to-microscope conversion. The hack isn’t so much a conversion as just a handy jig, but it’s still interesting. The basic idea is to set up a platform for the slides, and to mount the smartphone directly above. The trick, and the reason this can be called a microscope, is that [Yoshinok] embeds the lens from a cheap laser pointer into the smartphone holder. He is able to get 40x optical magnification with the lens, and even though it sacrifices quality, he uses the built-in digital zoom to get up to 175x magnification.

By itself, you could use this with a light source to magnify 3D objects. [Yoshinok] demonstrates this with a dime. But since the slide holder is made of clear acrylic, he mounted a cheap LED flashlight in the base to serve as through-sample lighting. Using this setup, he was able to observe the process of plasmolysis.

If you have kids, this is certainly a project to do with them, but we can’t help but think it will be useful for non-parents alike. This sort of magnification is good enough for simple lab experiments, and given that most Hack-a-Day readers have these parts lying around, we figure the cost is closer to $0. If you give it a try, let us know your results in the comments!

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WeMo without a smartphone

wemo-without-the-app

[Matt Galisa] decided to try his hand at setting up the Belkin WeMo outlet without using a Smartphone app. The hardware is a pass-through for mains voltage which allows you to switch the plug over the network. It has a built-in WiFi module which normally connects to your home network. But the first time that you power it up it announces its own SSID designed for an iOS (and recently Android Beta) app to connect to in order to enter your AP credentials.

He started with this Python script used for WeMo hacking. It was originally meant to issue commands to the outlet once it had passed the initial setup. [Matt] followed along but couldn’t get an answer on the port he expected. It turns out that the device listens on a different port until the initial setup is complete (probably so that you don’t mess up other outlets on the network that are already working correctly). His next challenge was to manually set the WPA credentials. This never really worked and he ended up using a virtual AP without password protection through DD-WRT. From there he was able to set up a Python script to turn on, off, and toggle the state of the outlet.

If you’re looking to dig deeper into the device’s security check out this project.

Turn your camera phone into a Geiger counter

Next time you’re waiting in the security line in an airport, why don’t you pull out your smartphone and count all the radiation being emitted by those body scanners and x-rays? There’s an app for that, courtesy of Mr. [Rolf-Dieter Klein].

The app works by blocking all the light coming into a phone’s camera sensor with a piece of tape or plastic. Because high energy radiation will cause artifacts on the CMOS camera sensor inside the phone, radiation will be captured as tiny specks of white light. The title picture for this post was taken from a camera phone at the Helmholtz Research Center in Munich being bathed in 10 Sieverts per hour of Gamma radiation from the decay of Cesium-137.

We have to note that blips of ‘bad data’ from a CMOS camera sensor aren’t unusual. These can come from electrical weirdness in the sensor itself or even the heat from the battery. [Rolf]‘s app takes a reading of the noise floor and subtracts it from the counter. Radioactive decay resulting in Beta particles such as the Potassium-40 in bananas or the Uranium in granite counter tops don’t really register, although [Rolf] did have some success with Potassium chloride and a long measurement time. Still though, it’s a really cool way to turn a phone into a tricorder.

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If you don’t have a Steampunk Smartphone…

Steampunk Smartphone

[Richard] has been working on the concept of “incorporating more feeling into our digital objects”. His design is still just a concept but hopefully someone will take up the idea because we think the results would be amazing. The attention to detail in the design is impressive, the Rotary Mechanical Smartphone as he is calling it contains a generic smartphone maintaining all the features such as the touch screen, but also including a set of interchangeable rotary dials on the back. There is the true rotary dial just like an old phone and a push button dial, for complete integration of the old and new technologies.

Once the design was complete, Richard built himself a proof of concept model to show off his work. The shell was 3D printed and copper plated to get the desired steampunk finish. The rotary dials are made from brass plate and hand finished. [Richard] has put in a lot of effort getting the finish right with electroplating, painting, and sanding. The final results are nothing short of impressive. Check out his site for some very nice photos and build details.

An Even Simpler Smartphone Garage Door Opener

We have seen smartphone garage door openers in the past, but [Lou's] Hack is beautiful in its simplicity. His door opener tackles the problem without using computers, Arduinos, wireless modules or even any smartphone based applications. For this project all that is needed is a Bluetooth headset and a single transistor. The door opener uses the Samsung HM1100 Bluetooth headset, which [Lou] has done significant testing on to show that his creation is quite secure and will not open the door unexpectedly.

When this headset connects to a phone it produces a beep from the earbud, so [Lou] removed the speaker and replaced it with a transistor. Now he can use the voltage spike produced by the amplifier before the beep as his switching signal. By wiring the transistor in parallel with the door button inside his garage he is able to open the door wirelessly by connecting then right away disconnecting from the headset. This setup is apparently perfectly secure as the only way to initially link your phone with the headset is to be inside the garage. Check out the video after the break for build instructions and a demonstration.

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WiFi Mapping with a smartphone

map

Not so long ago, mapping WiFi required a laptop, GPS, a big antenna and Kismet/NetStumbler. Today’s smartphones have replaced even this task. For those of us running a GPS and WiFi equipped Windows Mobile phone, WiFiFoFum is an excellent and simple solution, as well as a great companion for installing an AP. [Read more...]